What makes a website successful?

Your website is your online portal that can generate leads and sales 24/7. The internet never sleeps, so optimise your website correctly and you’ll be driving organic leads and sales around the clock.

What does it take to have a successful website that works for your business? It’s more than just design. SEO and optimisation is the difference between success and failure.

In this guide, we’ll be covering everything from what CMS to use, how to structure your website and some of the best SEO practices that you’ll need to carry out to reach the top of the search engines, beat the competition and be as successful online as you can be.

Is it a definitive guide? No. However, it is a very detailed guide covering a range of areas. SEO is a forever evolving field with new algorithms rolling out several times per year and hundreds of factors determining where a site ranks. Therefore we can’t list everything in one post.

Sit back, relax, and buckle up as we cover various areas of the keys to digital marketing success.

Choosing the Right Domain

The first step is to choose the right domain. There are a few factors to consider here and what’s best for one business is not necessarily going to be right for another.

When choosing a domain, think ahead. Are you going to be targeting just one country, or international traffic? If it’s the latter, be sure to choose a TLD (Top Level Domain). There are strategies that can be later applied to help with driving organic growth from other countries, which we’ll get into later.

What is a TLD?

A top-level domain refers to the extension after the dot symbol. There are country-specific TLDs and international ones. If you’re targeting UK traffic only, you might choose a country-specific extension such as .co.uk. If you’re targeting international traffic, try to find your domain name with one of the following extensions:

.com.net.org

The first is always preferable. There are currently over 1500 domain extensions, and many website owners are being forced into choosing one of these generic extensions due to the low availability of TLDs. However, your domain extension is important.

An official statement from Google’s John Mueller states that no preferential treatment is given to one extension over another. Whilst supposedly they are all treated equally, several case studies would argue that point. It’s also more brandable to have a .com than .design for example.

There are other factors you should consider when choosing your domain name. As it happens, there are several, but we’ll focus on three.

Keep it short and simple

Try to keep your domain short and simple whenever possible. This means around 15 characters, no hyphens, underscores or numbers and is easy to spell.

Make it brandable

Branding is crucial to your digital success and promotes trust over keyword-based domains. Words such as Google or YouTube don’t mean anything, but we associate them with specific platforms and therefore they are easier to brand.

Would you buy shoes from Nike or WeSellShoesOnline.com? You get the idea.

Secure your domain

We’ve seen businesses make the mistake of not auto-renewing their domain and then forgetting to renew. It’s a big risk for such a low cost. Therefore, set your domain to auto-renew, or even better, register for 10 years at a time. If you’re building a brand or building a business, it’s not a big outlay for the sake of protecting your domain.

You should also protect yourself from having your domain hijacked. People get hacked. It’s a sad fact of life. However, when it comes to your domain, you can’t afford for this to be hijacked. Thankfully there are a couple of things you can do to ensure this doesn’t happen.

First, be sure to enable domain lock through your domain registrar. Secondly, enable two-factor authentications so if someone manages to steal your login credentials, they still can’t access your account. It takes minutes to set up and will keep your domain secure.

Choose the Right Hosting Platform

Hosting platforms differ wildly. Some are great and feature the best hardware and support. Others are cheaper, overcrammed and will slow your website down.

Good hosting doesn’t mean expensive costs. It’s a competitive market, and there are plenty of players out there offering great hosting at competitive prices.

We use and recommend to all our clients to use SiteGround. They’re rated as one of the best in the market, and their pricing may surprise you. One of the main benefits that a good hosting platform will provide, is the level of hardware they provide without overcramming their servers. What does this mean for your business? A faster loading website.

Why Does Website Speed Matter?

The speed at which your website loads is crucial. In short, a fast loading website reduces bounce rates.

A bounce rate is defined as a website user who lands on a page and then leaves without browsing your site. This signals to Google that the user did not have a good experience, and this isn’t what you want.

Speed is a ranking signal

You read that right. Speed is a direct ranking signal. Got the best-looking website but one that is slow to load? Good luck in trying to gain decent organic rankings and traffic. It simply won’t happen.

Running a WordPress website and looking to improve the performance of your site? Then our 10 tips on how to speed up your WordPress website is worth a read. We’ll cover optimising your website in more detail further on.

Choosing the Right CMS (Content Management System)

The majority of websites these days are built on some form of CMS. It’s essentially the first layer in website development. If you’re having your first site developed, or an established site re-developed, be sure to be careful about what CMS you choose to develop on.

There are various platforms to choose from, but we would recommend that you seriously consider using WordPress. There are several benefits to using this open-source platform including:

Low development cost

WordPress has a low development cost due to the fact it's open source. This means the CMS is free to use for any business, and it’s kept up to date. Being open-source means that, unlike licensed software, developers all over the world can contribute to keeping the code up to date and secure. For you, this helps towards a low development cost.

Not held ransom by a web development company

As the CMS is open source, it means you're not tied to one web development company. We’ve often seen businesses using a platform that ties them into one agency. This isn’t what you want as it means when you’re looking to implement new features and functionality, it’s going to incur high development costs.

It’s free

Open source means the CMS is free to use. And as the CMS is updated over time with new features and security implementations, you get these benefits at no cost.

WordPress is just for blogs, right?

It’s a misconception that WordPress is created primarily for blogs. This may have been the case when it was first released but it has quickly grown into a fully-fledged CMS. WordPress has the largest market share and powers over a third of all the world's websites.

It’s used by some big names including Mercedes Benz, Sony, and Disney to name just a few. It’s become so popular that its market share has grown to 60% for content management systems. 

WordPress doesn’t allow for advanced functionality

One of the many benefits of WordPress is that it can be as simple or as advanced as you wish. From a simple perspective, you can install a theme, modify it and get up and running in no time. From an advanced perspective, you can hire a web developer to integrate custom code to implement advanced functionality.

Simply put, a WordPress user does not need to learn or understand coding languages such as PHP. Most users can use the CMS without any prior coding knowledge and can hire developers for more advanced work that requires knowledge of PHP, HTML, CSS, JavaScript etc.

Choosing the right WordPress theme

The 2nd layer after your CMS is going to be your WordPress theme. Themes make it easy to get started with WordPress development and like a lot of platforms, there are plenty of themes to choose from.

Think of themes like a collection of templates that define the appearance of your website. Of course, these are editable, so you’re not limited in terms of design. It’s just a starting point.

Free vs Premium WordPress Themes

When looking for a theme, be aware there’s a huge variety that offers different designs as well as functionality. Free WordPress themes can be found at the official WordPress repository. Premium themes, on the other hand, can be found in several marketplaces. There are however several things to consider when choosing what WordPress theme is going to manage your website.

Free WordPress Themes Advantages

Completely free

Free themes are completely free. Some developers have a collection of free themes to gain exposure to their premium offerings. Others may release free themes with pro upgrades. Either way, free themes are simply put, free.

They’ve passed a strict review

To be listed on the official WordPress repository, developers who upload a theme need to have them pass a strict review process. Therefore, it’s not recommended to download a free theme from anywhere other than the official WordPress repository.

Free WordPress Themes Disadvantages

Limited Functionality

Free themes normally have limited features, so if you’re looking to start an online blog, it’s probably not much of a disadvantage. If however, you’re looking at having a website with more capabilities, you’re probably better off looking elsewhere.

Less Frequent Updates

Free themes are known to have less frequent updates. That’s not ideal as the WordPress CMS has regular updates to cover not only not features, but security implementations and compatibility. The disadvantage of free themes is they don’t normally receive updates to remain compatible.

Support

Normally free themes don’t offer dedicated support, which you may find you need if you don’t have an external marketing agency who manages your site for you.

Premium WordPress Themes Advantages

Superior in every way

Premium WordPress themes, on the other hand, are normally superior in every way. From design to functionality, these themes are superior and more unique because the developer is earning for their work.

Premium themes are maintained by developers

Premium WordPress themes are kept up to date ensuring they remain compatible with the latest versions of WordPress, well-known plugins, and bug fixes reported by the community. It’s also not uncommon to see premium themes gain new features and functionality over time.

Dedicated support

Premium themes come with dedicated support. Normally this lasts for 6 months from the date of purchase, though can be extended for 6 months at a time for a relatively low cost.

Recommendation

We would always recommend that you choose a premium theme, and one from a well known and highly rated developer. The small outlay at the beginning will save you a lot of time and stress in the future.

Adding features and functionality

Features and functionality can be added using plugins. These are ‘modules’ that can be plugged in allowing for extended functionality. Think of plugins like apps on your phone. There’s probably one for everything. Some are free, some are paid for.

However, we should mention that whilst plugins allow for adding functionality to your website, you should always backup your website before installing them. The problem with plugins is that they may not always be compatible with the version of WordPress you are running, your theme, or your server configuration.

So be safe and always take a backup first. That way, if something breaks, you can restore it easily.

Secure your website with an SSL certificate

Assuming you chose the right hosting provider as mentioned earlier, you’ll be able to install an SSL certificate for free. However, you may be wondering, what an SSL certificate is and what it does?

When you visit a website in your browser, you’ll find that most of them start with the HTTPS protocol, i.e. our site’s address is https://www.silverscopemedia.com.

However, some websites, are still using the non-secure HTTP protocol. Sites that have these addresses are essentially not secure meaning that data can be intercepted as it’s sent over the browser.

Let’s put it another way. If you are on a website that starts with HTTP and is missing the crucial ‘s’, data can be intercepted as it’s sent between the browser and the corresponding server. That means if you were to enter your credit card details on a website with one of these addresses, you’re risking your details being stolen.

We do however still see websites not using an SSL certificate to secure their site as well as their users’ information. Make sure you’re not one of them.

Use a CDN if targeting international traffic

If you’re looking at gaining organic traffic from more than one country, and you have a TLD (Top Level Domain) be sure to use a CDN (Content Delivery Network).

What is a CDN?

A CDN refers to a group of servers which work to deliver internet content quicker to users loading it within their browser.

How does a CDN differ from a web host?

Your website is stored on a server with your hosting provider. However, it has a fixed location. Let’s look at a working example.

Our website is stored on a server which is located in London. So when users from the UK visit our website, their browser makes a request which travels to the server in London and then back to them with the contents of the page.

But what happens if someone in Australia visits our website? Without a CDN, the same process occurs. Their browser sends a request, asking the server for the contents of the page. However, due to the distance from their location to our server, their load time would be significantly greater than if there was a server with our website which was located nearer to them.

With a CDN, copies of our static files are placed on several servers around the world. When a visitor types in our address, and visits us from a search engine, their browser can load these files from the server nearest to their location. This results in much faster loading times and if you recall from earlier, website speed is crucial for reducing bounce rates and increasing conversion rates.

Some web hosts, including SiteGround, have partnered with Cloudflare to provide their customers with the ability to enable a CDN free and easily. If you’re with another hosting provider, you’ll need to inquire with them if they have a similar partnership in place.

If they don’t and you’re looking for a simple solution, consider switching your hosting provider to one that offers the latest hardware, functionality and support such as SiteGround. Their pricing is not only very competitive, but they also offer a free website transfer service as well, so you don’t need to worry about the switch itself.

Optimising your website – introduction

You’ll want to not only optimise your website to start with but ensure that you keep it optimised going forward. Doing so will benefit your business and your visitors. We covered speed optimisations earlier on with our 10 tips on how to speed up a WordPress website, but speed is just one factor of optimisation. Looking for SEO services to optimise your website? We can help.

There are other optimisation techniques that you’ll want to carry out for the benefits of SEO and UX. This section is the largest part of our guide, however, it’s worth noting as mentioned before that search engine optimisation is not only a forever evolving field, it’s also a technical one which covers hundreds of ranking factors.

We’re not covering everything, or we’ll never finish writing this guide, however, we will be covering some of the key areas.

SEO 101 – Driving Organic Growth

For many readers, you may have skipped to this section of the guide. It makes sense as you no doubt have a website and are looking to increase your traffic, conversions and lead/sales generation.

You might be taking care of your SEO in-house or outsourcing to a freelancer or an agency. If your digital marketing budget is an issue and you’re doing your own SEO, then this section is definitely for you.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for search engine optimisation. It’s the practice of optimising your website to improve your search engine rankings. Doing so will increase the number of customers your business reaches online and potentially the number of leads and sales you therefore generate.

On-Page SEO vs Off-Page SEO

SEO can be broken down into two categories. On-page SEO and off-page SEO. The former is everything that you can control on your own website whereas off-page SEO refers to actions taken externally such as link building or brand mentions.

SEO Audit/Analysis

It’s always a good idea to carry out an SEO audit of your website. It will highlight not only errors that you may have but will also give you actionable insights into key areas for improvement. We offer a free SEO audit for all businesses covering 120 metrics which is a good place to start. If you’re struggling to get more visitors and sales to your website, our free SEO report might just contain the answers to why.

That's it for part 1 of our guide. We'll be posting part 2 next week so make sure to come back to check out the rest!

Speak to an SEO strategist

Growing a business online is hard, but it doesn’t have to be. Speak to our SEO strategist today and find out how we can help you drive organic growth. We'll also provide you with a free comprehensive website audit with actionable recommendations. Give us a call on 01432 483163 or send us an email.